February 27, 2024 - 1:00pm

China is the greatest threat posed to the US in the latter’s history, according to Dr Sumantra Maitra, director of research and outreach at the American Ideas Institute.

Last night Maitra argued at an event at the UnHerd Club that, while it’s unclear whether China intends to go to war, such an event would bring American deaths at a scale not seen in generations. 

“The total Chinese manpower is 1.6 billion people,” said Maitra. “They have a production capacity which is more than the combined production capacity of the US, UK, European Union, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The scope of the threat, if that goes on a war footing, is something which we haven’t even thought about or grappled with.”

A war with China to defend Taiwan would mean 12,000 dead Americans within the first hour, because the Chinese would immediately sink two carrier groups, according to Maitra. At the present moment, the US lacks both the capacity and the appetite for this type of fight. “The US has never faced a challenge to the scope of China, and this is not being hyperbolic,” he said. 

This doesn’t mean China should take a successful invasion of Taiwan as a given, Maitra explained. It takes less to defend an island than to conquer it, and even a successful invasion would be followed by a challenging occupation.

“They’re never going to go toe to toe with the Chinese Air Force, but what they can do is have guns in every house. That changes that dynamic of Chinese invasion,” he warned.

Maitra’s work has gained influence in Donald Trump’s circles, and some have speculated that his calls for a “dormant NATO” could make their way into the former president’s agenda. This would mean gradually removing American troops from Europe as continental powers increase their defence spending while maintaining nuclear protection from the US. In the event of a second Trump term, that could lead to a shift in America’s focus from Europe to Asia. 

“That amount of death we haven’t seen since the Second World War,” he said of a potential war with China. “I don’t think they have the appetite to do that.”

is UnHerd’s US correspondent.